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Historic Case Engine No. 711

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Willis Smith and his Case Traction Engine no 711.

At Steam-Up, we are very fortunate to have one of the oldest Case traction engines in the world on display. Manufactured in 1880, in Racine, Wisconsin, Case Traction Engine no. 711 was purchased from the J.I. Case factory and shipped to Oregon where it survives today.

This Case traction engine was purchased on February 26, 1880 and it was shipped from Wisconsin by sea. It was loaded on a ship and it sailed from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. From there, it traveled around South America to the Pacific Ocean and up the Columbia River to Portland where it went up the Willamette River to Oregon City. From there, it went through the locks and it sailed south to Harrisburg, Oregon where it was unloaded in May or June 1880.

There are three known families who have owned engine no. 711:

    • The Wallace family originally used it on their farm near Harrisburg.
    • The Clearwater family bought the engine in 1902.
    • Zach Smith’s great grandfather, Willis Smith, purchased the engine in 1955.

Marion Wallace was a blacksmith in Natron, Oregon, which at the time was the terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Wallace used the engine to run a feed chopper, wood saw and threshing machine, regularly pulled by horses. It was later used by two of his sons to run a small, portable sawmill near Jasper, Oregon. It was here that the Clearwater family purchased the engine in 1902.

In 1907, the Clearwater family added a Frasier steering mechanism to the front wheels, making it operate like a tractor. They operated the engine until 1915. Apparently, the boiler was in need of new tubes that never materialized. There it sat, rusting away until 1955, when Willis Smith saw it and rescued it.

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The Case Traction Engine no. 711 as it looked in 1955.

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Another view of the Case Traction Engine no. 711 as it looked in 1955.

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A copy of the receipt for $40 paid to Bess Clearwater by Willis Smith.

During the years of World War II, Case engine no. 711 miraculously survived the many scrap drives when scrap metal was hunted up for the War effort. Zach’s grandfather, Bob Smith, was in the scouts at the time and the engine almost got donated to the scrap drives. Willis Smith got the engine restored and running in 1957. It has been operating ever since.

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Zach Smith’s grandfather, Bob Smith, is shown operating the engine at an event in 1957.

We are indebted to five generations of Smiths who have lovingly cared for the engine and restored it. Over the last two years or so, Zach has restored it to “near factory condition.” Just in case you were wondering why Zach Smith and his 1880 Case traction engine no. 711 always lead the Steam-Up parades, not only is his engine the oldest one displayed at Steam-Up, but his engine’s slowest speed is faster than any other engines or tractors in the parade. It is difficult for Zach to follow the others, so he sets the pace.

In 1876, when Jerome I. Case introduced a portable stationary traction engine, he didn’t envision its use as a tractor. In fact, he intended for a four-horse team to pull it. Zach says, “I believe that this model was designed as a tractor from the start as it was much larger than the other portables and would need more horses.” The harness brackets show a lot of wear on Zach’s engine where one or more horses were hitched to help steer the heavy tractor.

Zach grew up operating the engine and knows it inside and out so he is the perfect person to care for this rare engine. Zach says, “The most important part of ownership comes in knowing how to repair it and keep it running.” He says that over 95% of the parts on the 711 are original parts from the factory.

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